Controversy in Qatar Ahead of the World Cup

Controversy in Qatar Ahead of the World Cup

Eden Aulov

One thousand, five hundred and eighty-nine days after the World Cup final of France vs. Croatia, in which France reigned victorious, the biggest tournament in the world is upon the globe once more. Thirty-two teams from around the globe, made up of twenty-six of the most talented players from each country, are currently stationed in Qatar, with one goal on their minds: to win. For a soccer player, the World Cup is the ultimate achievement, the Fountain of Youth to an explorer, the peak of a player’s career. Similarly, the World Cup is the peak of a soccer watcher’s career. Garnering around a billion viewers around the world, more than ten times the NFL Super Bowl viewership, fans flock to the host country of the year, bringing frenzy, pride, and beer. This is the usual scenario- however, in Qatar, this will not be the case.

Qatar, a country of strict, conservative, traditional values and laws, is the complete opposite of the frenzied, wild, energized atmosphere of the World Cup. Upon hosting this year, it has garnered intense backlash from both Qatari and the rest of the world’s point of views over the controversial laws and rules it has imposed on the tournament. As properly pointed out in the title of Fox News article, “Conservative Qatar prepares for [the] world’s biggest party.” The question on the world’s mind is, will Qatar abide by the rowdy crowds of the world, turning a blind eye to its customs, or arrest and prosecute millions of foreigners for not abiding by the laws they hold their citizens to?

For example, Qatar is strict about its rules prohibiting public intoxication. According to the Library of Congress, public consumption could result in up to six months in prison and a fine greater than eight hundred dollars. Smugglers of alcohol into the country could face up to three years in prison. In relation to the World Cup, Qatar has banned alcohol from the stadiums, other than the spectators’ luxury suites. It will not be sold or legally consumed. This is extremely controversial as FIFA has made a point out of alcohol being a priceless part of the World Cup. Back in 2012, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke stated, “Alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we’re going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant, but that’s something we won’t negotiate.” They upheld this, in fact, to such an extent, that upon Brazil’s hosting of the tournament in 2014, FIFA pressured the South American country into changing its federal law to overturn a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages within stadiums. Fans are not happy about this, as soccer fans and alcohol are quite a well-known duo, especially in the biggest sporting event in the world. FIFA is now in a tricky situation as Qatar did this last minute, two days before the start of the matches, without negotiations, as well as the fact that the ban will be enforced in accordance to Islamic law. 

Another prominent controversial rule Qatar has announced is that Qatari law states that “indecent acts and the act of sexual intercourse outside of marriage” will be met with harsh punishments. Those who commmit “immoral” actions in public can face a fine or up to six months’ imprisonment, while those who have sex outside of marriage face up to seven years. According to the article World Cup 2022: Conservative Qatar Prepares for World’s Biggest Party, “Swearing and making offensive gestures, dressing immodestly and kissing in public may normally lead to prosecution in Qatar.” According to the Library of Congress, public debauchery can also lead to up to three years in prison. An inclusion of these “indecent acts” is the fact that “both men and women [will need to] cover shoulders, chests, stomach, and knees, and tight leggings [will need to be] covered by a long shirt or dress,” according to the State Department. It remains to be seen how strictly Qatar will enforce this, as an unprecedented 1.2 million people have requested tickets to the World Cup thus far. In comparison to Qatar’s population of roughly 2.9 million, this means that it will be very difficult if not impossible to impose these restrictions on what would be equivalent to a third of their usual population. Soccer fans, especially men, are notable for coming scantily clad, usually with their shirts off, painted in their team colors and bearing their designs. Especially in the Qatari heat, with so many people in the stadiums, it will be interesting to see whether people abide by this law, but moreso, how Qatar will deal with those who don’t. 

In addition, according to the State Department, “Homosexuality is criminalized in Qatar.” As NPR’s Becky Sullvian said, “Advocates say that LGBTQ people in Qatar are subjected to conversion therapy, harassment by authorities, and imprisonment.” This has sparked outrage in prominently non-Arab countries, which often include anti-gay sentiment in society, as the debate for respecting Islamic customs vs. respecting homosexuality, which is normalized in the Western and European worlds, begins. According to Fox News, “A senior security official has warned rainbow flags may be confiscated to protect fans from being attacked for promoting gay rights.” However, backlash from Qataris concerning disrespect to their culture has also been very visible concerning various issues. In downtown Doha, celebrities, among which was prominent gay rights campaigner, posted on social media on a “pulsing dance floor” and “descended on exhibition openings and fashion shows in downtown Doha” (Fox News). Qataris viewed this rowdiness as an indifference towards their country, citing a threat to Qatar’s traditional values. All over social media, the hashtag “Stop the Destruction of Our Values,” trended for days. 

Lastly, Qatar has come under fire for a matter of human/ethical rights, in which they used over 30,000 migrant workers in the building of their eight brand new stadiums, new hotels, expansion of their airport, along with new railways and highways in preparation for the World Cup. All were constructed by migrant workers, which face dangerous conditions, are often kidnapped, unfairly paid or simply not at all, forced to labor and forced to work long hours, face employer intimidation and “an inability to leave their jobs because of the country’s sponsorship system,” human rights organizations have found, according to CNN. Though Qatar has denied all of this, migrant workers who have spoken to CNN about their experiences in detail (linked above) say otherwise. A Nepali migrant worker said that “the most difficult job…was in construction when he had to carry tiles up buildings ‘six to seven stories above’ in overbearing heat, plus lay pipelines in deep pits,” according to CNN. While FIFA has condemned Qatar for their actions, nothing much has been nor can be done to punish them further considering the World Cup is already upon them. Once more, though, this has initiated controversy as fans become torn between their love for the game and the knowledge that participating in this love means contributing to the literal blood, sweat, and tears of Qatar’s oppressed workers. 

In conclusion, the Qatari controversies have brought a different, more negative atmosphere to this particular World Cup. While on one hand, it is important to respect the customs and traditions of the hosting country, it is also important to similarly respect the customs and traditions of all of the other nations which are involved, and therefore their fans. Moreover, it is important to respect soccer traditions, which have remained the same rowdy customs for decades, if not centuries. It remains to be seen if Qatar and soccer fans will be able to find a happy medium between the two, so that the world can once more focus on the global unification, celebration, and grit which comes with the electric atmosphere of the World Cup.